Friday, 13 September 2013

Pandora's Box?

As you may have read or seen on the news, the Church in Wales has agreed that women may now be consecrated Bishops. For some that is good news as it now recognises that women’s ministry and calling to the priesthood is fully and finally realised as being on an equal footing to men. For others it is a sign that the Church in Wales has decided to set aside nearly 2000 years of tradition and cut itself off even further from the other historic denominations—Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches—and others. Whatever your position there are several things to consider:

First, this does not mean that overnight we will see the consecration of a woman bishop in the Diocese or indeed the Church in Wales. Partly because the current bishops still have their time to serve, partly because at the present time there is no queue of women lining up ready and able to serve in that position, and partly because the Constitution of the Church has to be re-written to take account of the change of Law.
Second, the Church in Wales will, next April, be working on a code of practice that will enable those who are opposed to the measure to continue to stay and work in the Church into which God called them. The consecration of women bishops may well be delayed until after this.
Third, although the consensus at the present time is that this is the right thing and God’s will for the Church, only time will tell. In the words of Gamaliel in Acts 5:38-39:

“ If their plan comes from human authority, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop them. You might even be fighting against God himself!” 

If it is wrong I have several concerns:
First, the Church in Wales is in rapid decline and nothing short of an act of grace will save it from dying out altogether. If the consecration of women as Bishops is seen as one possible solution to that I fear that that is a mistake as there is no quick fix to the predicament we are in.
Second, I hope and pray that this does not lead to the emasculation of the Church i.e. that is does not reinforce the idea of some men that church is for women. True the majority of those who attend and work so hard in and for the Church are women, but will their new position of authority lead to a further imbalance in the sexes attending?
Third, I also hope that it does not encourage extreme feminists to see the Church not only as another career option, but an opportunity to score political points in order to demonstrate that women can do as good a job as men if not better. Of course seeing Church ministry as a career has been a danger for men too and I have seen too many take that route not only to their own detriment but also to the Church’s. However given the exclusion of women from the upper echelons of the Church there may possibly be an added incentive for some women to apply in order to score points.  However that is NOT to say that there are not genuine, godly servants of Christ among both sexes and we are lucky to have some in our own Diocese.

What is clear however is that we will see more clergy leave the Church in Wales, because despite the offer of drawing up a code of practice some will see that now the lid is off Pandora’s Box it will never be shut again, at least not in the Church in Wales as it currently stands.

What is also clear too is that the bishop, historically and traditionally seen as a figure of unity in the Church, can no longer be so as long as the church contains those who oppose women bishops. So we have lost something precious and important to the Church. In addition as people leave some will join the Ordinariate of the Roman Catholic Church. Some may become Orthodox and others Baptists or some such. Some may even start Churches of their own, rather like the United States of America, further fragmenting an already deeply fractured worldwide Church into more pieces. Last estimates are that there are over 41,000 denominations or Christian organisations  in the world. Do we really need any more?

All of this may appear to be something of a dampener on what some see as the good news from Thursdays vote, but as someone who has friends on both sides of the debate and has served in the Church in Wales for 26 years it is inevitable that I am cautious and concerned about how all this will pan out. Goodness knows the calling is hard enough as it is without another layer of complication being slapped on top! And also as an Area Dean who crosses parish boundaries to work alongside those in both camps this will make things a little more complex than they already are. Bearing in mind too that eventually Parishes will cease and a larger entity - the Ministry Area - will emerge, how will this work out in respect of the team that is to come together.

I am sorry if this seems a rather negative response to Thursday's news but having lived and worked under one dispensation for such a long time it is hard to envisage how this will work out for the Church in Wales which is already struggling to sustain its shrinking congregations. In the words of my children, we'll have to "suck it and see."

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